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Guards (Leger/Guards/Wards) are intended as starting and end point of a fencer’s movement, which are automatically traversed during the fight. In a movement you cannot rest, nor can you in the guards. About the guards has been written so much and many theories that I like to bust a few myths:

  • Guards cover Openings, you can protect yourself in the Guards
    Completely wrong, any guard is broken by one of the strikes because there is no real coverage. You can defend yourself in a guard for some actions, but you are completely bare to others.
  • Guards offer openings and deceive the enemy
    Right, a guard can seduce an opponent to attack the obvious opening. But only if you want to take the risk of being cut first rather than being yourself  the one cutting first.
  • You strike from the Guards
    True for most Guards because they conform to the backswing.
  • In Guards you threaten the enemy
    Wrong, you just force him to walk a little detour.
  • In Guards you can rest
    Only if the opponent is at a distance where you can rest anyway. Then you need no guard.
  • From the Guards you start the pieces
    Right, if you exercise, because you have to start somewhere. In the fight the pieces come from the Zufechten.
  • With Guards you play tactical chess with the sword
    Only if you want to put yourself matt. Because outside of the Zufechten this is of  no  interest and within the Zufechten it would be stupid.
  • You should move from one Guards to another
    Wrong, what’s the point? In order to waist your power and to give the opponent the time to attack with a easy to recognize and predictable motion?

What Guards are good for?

  • A guard is the fencing master’s tool as the starting point for exercises in teaching. Since they are traversed in the backswing and at the endpoints, they are the ideal starting point for teaching a combat situation.
  • A guard helps the fencer in the “Nach” to carry out a rapid counter-action (Guardia, watch, be on guard). A fencer in the “Vor” requires in no guard. Therefore, in each of Liechtenauer doctrine inspired teaching most aspects of the actions in the “Vor” are taught before you get to learn the Guards.
  • Guards additionally serve as “decision points” in the fight.
    In the position of the traversing the guard your reach a moment of perception and decision making when no engagement/bindig helps you to feel what to do next. Joachim Meyer describes this as a extremely small moment where you stop concentrating on your own continuing movement ending in the guard and take a look at the situation, to decide with what action you will instantly come out of the guard again.

The phrase “wer da leit der ist tot“ (who is laying/legern there is the dead) from the oldest Liechtenauer related manuscript has often been interpreted in meaning that one has to move through the Guards. But nothing is further from the author’s intention. It is warned during and after the Zufechten to persist in a guard even one millisecond without exerting pressure on the enemy by working on the weapon. Only those who without hesitation, readily adapt to the respective fencing situation and taking advantage as the fastest will win the fight.

In todays trying to learn the fighting of Liechtenauer we often start to teach the guards. This is helpful in imitating the military teaching style used in Karate and a lot of other modern martial arts. It enables the tutor to call out commands and starting points for exercises. But to learn fighting in the way Liechtenauer may have intended, the guards itself are taught much later than the strikes and thrusts. It is reasonable that a fencer must know if a strike is coming from the roof (Dach/Tag) that it is coming from above, but he does not know or has to exercise the perfect Guard-Position to do a respectable strike or thrust.